Thursday, June 11, 2009

Flight 666

A post from guest blogger Rich Robinson.

This week I was lucky enough to get a chance to attend the U.K. premiere of the new Iron Maiden documentary, Flight 666. I’m kind of a fan already, so it was no surprise that I enjoyed it so much, but what did surprise me was the sort of a band they are. Simply put, I don’t think there are that many acts out there with this much integrity. I have to say I really was expecting some Spinal Tap preposterousness, maybe even 'hoping' it might have some Metallica-style prima donnas at each others throats, or at the very least some cocaine, booze, and groupie fueled madness. But surprisingly, it's none of those things at all. In fact, it's a portrait of a well balanced band who seem to genuinely like each other and genuinely love their fans. Sounds a bit boring when you put it like that, but that's the thing, with absolutely no artificial tension or tacked-on plot, it still manages to be both insightful and entertaining.

The movie follows the band on last year’s retrospective 'Somewhere Back in Time’ tour which amazingly covered 50,000 miles and 25 countries in just 45 days. Oh yeah, and it was all on their own plane piloted by singer Bruce Dickinson. You might not realize it, but Maiden are nothing short of a silent juggernaut of a band. They’ve also done it all with no airplay, no mainstream media support, and without ever compromising the sound or aesthetic of the band one little bit in the last 25 years. Yet they have still managed to sell 80 million albums, play some of the worlds biggest shows, and consistently remain one of the biggest bands in the world.

The story nicely champions the tricky logistics of moving a behemoth of a tour to places most bands fear to tread, and the problems that come up. Then, more importantly, are the likable characters it presents. You get the feeling they are really these nice, down to earth blokes who enjoy each others company. If that sounds dull in terms of the narrative, it's not. Their charisma, humor, and humility make all the members of the band engaging and entertaining to watch. There's no complaining, no rock star hissy fits, just guys having fun playing the music they love. In fact, I defy anyone to watch the movie and not come out thinking Niko McBrain is the nicest man in rock.

Of course, there are the songs too. Perfectly constructed for stadiums, encapsulating the tribal togetherness and fanatical involvement of the fans. You get the feeling this is where these songs naturally live, where they belong, and where they come to life. Hearing the crowd sing "Fear of the Dark" makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. But more, emotive still are the faces of the band as they hear the crowd singing back to them, it's the kind of connection that few other bands, if any, of that size seem to enjoy so sincerely.

There is also the amazing energy of Bruce Dickinson, which is simply astounding. If the leaping around on stage for two hours straight whilst bellowing high octane vocals (scream for me Costa Rica!) is not enough for you, how about getting up the next day to fly the sleeping band and crew to another country?

Most importantly at the center of it all are the fans. The hysteria at the hotel in Buenos Aires is something else, like Beatle-mania. There are people quitting their jobs in India to get to the show and people camping out in Costa Rica for 10 days just to get closer to the stage. I'm not sure who else could inspire that kind of loyalty and dedication these days.

But with all this worship and adoration, the band never once talk down to them, and you're left feeling genuinely like you were on the plane with them, part of the ride. Once again, Maiden takes their fans with them. It's impressive and inspiring, metal fan or not, Flight 666 might just deserve a couple of hours of your time. It's nice to know that nice guys finish first.